“Good night, stinky.”

People give nicknames to others as a form of endearment — an easy way to remember them among the millions we meet in a lifetime. Abraham Lincoln has “Honest Abe.” Clark Kent has “Superman.” I just have “Stinky.” Smells attach themselves to memories, and for my mother, it seems that my feet make the biggest impression.

I used to feel ashamed and embarrassed at that — not because mother called me out on my stinky feet, but because every greeting would be followed by a kiss on the cheek. I’d scrunch my face and pretend it was gross, as if to appease all my imaginary friends that were watching and jeering. As if wrinkling my face would stop them from sticking fingers into their mouths and pretending to barf out the same lunchtime ham and cheese sandwich their own mother woke up early to pack for them. As if to assure them (and even myself) that I was independent — that I didn’t need the support of an imperfect woman, admirable as she was. As if to prevent all the pubic hairs I thought I was entitled to as a grown-up would magically fall off with every display of affection. (Only much later did I discover that waxing pubes was actually a thing).

And even with all that (among other stupid, immature behaviors), my mother never stopped called me “stinky.” Nor did she stop kissing me on the cheek after saying good night.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me what it means to love unconditionally, and how to express that love without shame.

My mom still finds it hilarious to send deodorant to me through the mail. Odd how mint-scented armpit paste can bring about so much emotional comfort, but it does.

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